This part of the country was named the ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’ by the German explorer Alexander Von Humboldt, and it is easy to see why.
This part of the country was named the ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’ by the German explorer Alexander Von Humboldt, due to an impressive roll call of towering peaks lines the route south: Cotopaxi, the Ilinizas, Carihuayrazo and Chimborazo, to name a few of it. The area attracts its fair share of trekkers and climbers, while the less active tourist can browse through the many teeming markets and colonial towns that nestle among the high volcanic cones altogether with delighting yourself resting in some of the lovely old haciendas which have opened their doors to visitors offering flower farms visits, horse backed riding an others in a great country side experience.
The tallest, 20,565-foot Chimborazo, was long thought to be the highest mountain in the world. The term Volcanoes avenue was coined by the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt greatest scientific traveler. Two of the other volcanoes, 17,160-foot Sangay and 16,480-foot Tungurahua, are generally cited as being among the 10 most active in the world.
History & Culture
Explorer Alexander von Humboldt coined this almost throwaway description during his 1802 expedition. Over a dozen volcanoes, some active, most dormant or effectively extinct, line the route and their mainly lush, cultivated slopes are typically capped by jagged cloud-swept craters.
About 14km north of Zumbahua, the famous volcanic-crater lake of Laguna Quilotoa is a gasp-inducing sight. A lookout on the precipitous crater rim offers stunning views of the mirror-green lake 400m below and the snowcapped peaks of Cotopaxi and Iliniza Sur.
The self-proclaimed Sultan of the Andes, Riobamba (2735m) is a handsome city made up of stately squares, flaking pastel-colored buildings, cobbled streets and sprawling markets. An important center since the early days of the colony, the place was dealt an abrupt and catastrophic blow in 1797 when a massive earthquake left it in ruins, though it was quickly rebuilt where it stands today, 20km north of its original site
Situated 50 km on the south part of Riobamba, Guamote (3050m) is an attractive town, if slightly down-at-heel, sporting a few handsome timber buildings from the railway era in the early twentieth century, with their characteristic balconies leaning on thick wooden pillars. Don’t miss the chaotic animal market up in the field behind the San Vicente Church, where ducks, chickens, sheep, piglets and guinea pigs (ranked among the most delicious in the country) change hands, while, all around, loudspeakers compete in volume to advertise the latest miracle cures.
Sitting in a fertile agricultural zone some 47km south of Latacunga, Ambato is an important commercial center with a bustling downtown core; there’s little here to hold your interest for more than an afternoon, and many travellers choose to pass straight through on their way to Baños or Riobamba. Still, it’s handy as a jumping-off point for a couple of neighbouring low-key attractions, including Quizapincha, a major producer of leather goods, Salasaca, famous for its weavings, Patate, a small village set in a fruit-growing valley, and, for the more adventurous, the Parque Nacional Llanganates, one of Ecuador least-explored wildernesses.
About 11km beyond Tigua, a side road leads downhill to Zumbahua (3500m), a small village set about half a kilometers north of the Latacunga on Quevedo road; if your bus is continuing to Quevedo, get off here and walk for five minutes or so down to the village. Zumbahua large central square looks desolate and empty through the week, but on Saturdays is crammed with traders, buyers and producer make it one of the most enjoyable and colourful markets. Among the piles of potatoes and beans, you may see freshly chopped sheep heads (along with various other parts of their anatomy), used to make soup that often prepared at the makeshift stalls. Other curiosities include a row of barbers and a cluster of tailors who mend clothes on old-fashioned sewing machines.
About two hours after leaving Ambato, you find your way down to GUARANDA (2670m), which sits in a shallow basin surrounded by hills. On the center of town is marked by the charming Bolivar Park, lined with old adobe houses with painted wooden balconies and sloping, red-tiled roofs flecked with lichen. The square also houses a grand, twin-towered church, a striking mixture of bare stone and white stucco, and the gleaming, white-walled Municipal, looming over the mature palms that give this place a more tropical look than its climate warrants.
Sangay National Park
The Sangay National Park is Ecuadorian largest highland reserve, a sprawling wilderness and a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering more than 5000 square kilometers of the eastern Andean cordillera, spilling down into the Amazon basin. The park stunning sierra highland scenery takes in three volcanoes (Tungurahua, El Altar and Sangay), over three hundred lakes, pristine paramo and native cloudforest, providing a habitat for spectacled bears, Andean condors, pumas and deer, among other mammals, while jaguars, monkeys and ocelots inhabit the lower, tropical areas.